Despite the most corrupt ethics laws in the nation and a rising tide of tea-party gubment haters in the House and Senate, Missouri has mostly escaped national-laughingstock status.
That has been, in part, due to Jay Nixon, the governor since 2008, who isn't a Brownback. He's a moderate Democrat unwilling to sign especially crazy legislation. But after the recently wrapped legislative session, it seems clear that Missouri politics are headed in a dangerously belligerent and — dare we say — Kansas-like direction.
There were early indications that the inmates in the asylum were ginned-up for a mutiny.
In February, Rep. Nick Marshall (R-Parkville) filed articles of impeachment against Nixon. Why? He didn't like Nixon's 2013 executive order allowing same-sex couples married in other states to file joint tax returns in Missouri. Reps. Mike Moon (R–Ash Grove) and Rick Brattin (R–Harrisonville) also presented impeachment resolutions, the former regarding Nixon's inexpediency in announcing a special election, the latter because Nixon didn't properly discipline a Department of Revenue employee who shared information with the federal government about Missouri concealed-carry permit holders. Or something like that. Nobody really knows because there was no merit to any of these efforts, which ultimately went nowhere.
On the heels of these stunts were attempts by state Sens. Brian Nieves (R–St. Louis) and Will Kraus (R–Lee's Summit) to boot camera crews from public meetings. That's illegal under Missouri Sunshine laws. Also, what do you guys have to hide?
Then there was the legislation itself, some of which wormed its way through the necessary channels to become law.
• A bill vetoed by Nixon but overridden by the House and Senate cuts Missouri's income-tax rate to 5.5 percent from 6 percent and creates a 25 percent deduction for business income reported on personal tax returns. Under it, a Missouri family of four making $44,000 a year will get annual relief of $32 — good for a night out at Arby's. Meanwhile, starting in 2017, Missouri — a state already struggling to provide adequate education and health and social services to its residents — is projected to lose around $800 million a year in tax revenue. Translation: Your public schools will continue to be shitty and unaccredited, and roads and other infrastructure in Missouri will continue to rot, all because Republicans have a hunch that lower taxes will attract business to a state that already has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the nation.
• Women seeking abortions in Missouri now must wait three days after their initial examinations to undergo the procedure. Think about that: A woman living in Columbia now has to take off work, drive two hours to St. Louis (the only clinic left in the state), then either drive back to Columbia and back again to St. Louis, or pay to stay in St. Louis for three days. Why? Because some old, white religious men say she needs extra time to fully ponder decisions about her body. That is some seriously condescending shit, especially from a party that claims it just wants government to get out of the way.
• Guns: Missouri loves 'em, and under new laws, the age requirement for concealed-carry permits drops from 21 to 19. Also, certain teachers and school administrators are allowed to carry weapons in school. If you don't like the idea of your kid being in a class with an armed teacher, too bad. The identities of those carrying weapons will be kept secret. Silver lining: An absurd bill that would have nullified all federal gun laws inside Missouri failed.
• A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare allows individual states to decide whether to expand Medicaid to their citizens. The good states are doing that, and the bad ones aren't. Missouri is one of the bad ones, refusing to extend coverage to 300,000 residents who would benefit from such an expansion. Legislation never made it out of committee in the 2014 session.
• An attempt to raise Missouri's minimum wage from $7.50 to $10 an hour also got zero traction with lawmakers.
• Missouri is one of the only states in the country that allows legislators to accept unlimited gifts from lobbyists. Naturally, few elected officials on that gravy train wish to derail it. A bill that would have established campaign-contribution limits and implemented a three-year waiting period before lawmakers could become lobbyists received hearings in the House and Senate but ultimately went nowhere. The orgy of political influence will continue in Jeff City for at least another year.
Some positive things did occur.
• As part of a bipartisan overhaul of the state's criminal code, first-time marijuana offenses (possession of less than 10 grams) are no longer jailable crimes. That takes effect in 2017. Also on the weed tip: Epilepsy patients are now permitted to use cannabis extract for treatment. Why Missouri is reluctant to follow Colorado's lead and open up the market to marijuana sales remains a mystery.
• You will soon be able to buy motorcycles on Sundays in Missouri. Nobody knows why you couldn't before. Maybe because of Jesus?
• E-cigarettes are now off-limits to those under 18. Unless you have a fake ID. Or an older sibling. Or are good at stealing. Basically, they're like real cigarettes now.
• Likewise, those under 17 are now required to get annual consent from parents before using commercial tanning beds. To the teens affected by these new laws, we can only say that although we think these rules are for your own good, we also understand your fury at the Missouri Legislature.